Ferial Haffajee

Cyril, what for art thou, Cyril?

2012-08-27 12:33

In some circles, there is an obsession with Cyril Ramaphosa.

He is treated as a saviour, as a messiah of a nation listing as it sails the choppy seas that often mark the 20-year ­anniversary of democracy.

This view of him is misplaced and his tenure as director at ­Lonmin Platinum is a telescope through which to look at this erstwhile warrior.

The reason Ramaphosa is so valorised is because of his past and not for anything he has done recently. He was an illustrious leader, a man among men who deserves his legacy as co-architect of the South African democratic edifice.

His early work – as leader of the mine workers, as the first democratic-era ANC secretary-general, as negotiator of our grand Constitution and then as the first-generation black ­business leader who stormed the Bastilles of downtown Joburg capital – was all in path-blazing roles.

But for the past decade or so, what has Ramaphosa achieved that was transformative and of superior leadership capability, either in business or in politics?

Nothing really.

The last significant work he was assigned was the disciplinary inquiry into former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and his colleagues.

He acquitted himself well then, as the finding was grounded in the values and principles of unity and discipline.

But soon after, I saw an image of him bidding for a pricy buffalo wearing what looked like khaki.

“He looks like a fat farmer,” I thought to myself and rushed to discipline my errant mind for, ­after all, this was Cyril.

I think I even wrote that it was good he was so wealthy since rich presidents have less compulsion to raid the national coffers.

But after the Marikana killings my dissident thoughts plague me again.

“What, Cyril,” I’ve wondered, “are you for?”

 It is a question we should ask of all black executives deployed by the liberation movement into the mahogany rows of capital.

The way I read the ­Lonmin story is that neither Ramaphosa, Len Konar nor Mohamed Seedat (the other black non-executive directors) are particularly transformative or transcendent of old practices in their understandings of their roles.

Reading deeply this week, I can see no particular ways in which the once-great leader has ­managed to fundamentally alter the patterns of work, of labour relations and of wealth distribution in the world’s third-largest ­platinum mine.

The Bench Marks Foundation report has for years been pointing out that mines are in violation of their responsibilities under the social contract they entered into to win mining rights.

You take the riches, you plough it back into ­communities.

The numbers in Lonmin’s annuals may look impressive, but if you drill down into the detail, its community development plans are weak and certainly not creative or lateral minded.

This is for the periods well before the platinum price went into a tailspin.

Surely the role of leaders who reach the levers of power because of their transformation credentials must do better than this?

Especially somebody like ­Ramaphosa, who assiduously maintains his political life.

As a leader of the governing party which drew up the Mining Charter and its attendant laws, why was Ramaphosa, as a director, not more attuned to their effective implementation?

Lonmin was formally Lonrho, Briton Tiny Rowlands’ extractive enterprise that was branded the ­unacceptable face of capitalism.

It has changed path, but as a black ­empowerment partner, Ramaphosa’s job was to accelerate that journey.

Viewed through the telescope of the rock-drillers who have held the nation in their thrall from their perch at Wonderkop, it is a failed journey.

We remain slaves to our history.

It has long been time for ­Ramaphosa to choose between his life as business magnate, a pure and simple personal quest; and his life as political leader, a more communal path.

Right now, the two identities are failing him and failing us.

- Ferial Haffajee is editor of City Press.

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Read more on:    julius malema  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  leadership  |  democracy


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